23 April 2005

Political Animal, Party Animal

It's strange the things one sometimes finds in books.

In very last paragraphs of Happy Lives and the Highest Good, G. Lear considers the question of how a philosopher in Aristotle's mold balances devotion to philosophical contemplation with other goods in life. "We may be disappointed that Aristotle does not give us an algorithm for determining when the happiness of our lives will be best promoted by choosing to contemplate and when it would be better to engage in particularly human affairs" (205). But, not to worry, since "however the philosopher chooses to act, he will be guided by a practical virtue that is not radically different from the fine moral habits in which he was trained"(206). You won't find a philosopher, then, skulking away from parties, to sneak in more time for contemplation:

For instance, if a philosopher is at a party, he will not leave early in a way that might offend his hosts and make him seem a spoilsport to the other guests. He cannot, in his practical life, approximate perfect theoretical truthfulness unless he recognizes the truth to himself as not only rational, but also political and animal. Though his love of contemplation will lead him to avoid making friends with people who disdain philosophy and try to keep him from it, his love of truth will also lead him to recognize that as a political animal it is good for him to have friends. Furthermore, he will understand that when he is at a party with friends, he is part of a community. Since every community is organized for the sake of a common good (Pol. I.1 1252a1-2, NE VIII.9), the philosopher will see that as a member of the community it is good for him to care for that common good, in this case the relaxation that comes with companionship and laughter (206).
That's surely what Williams would call 'one thought too many'.

Glaucon: "This party is a bore, Socrates. Let's get out of here and contemplate--a much better use of our time."
Socrates: "But Glaucon, is a party not a community of sorts?
Glaucon: "What of it?"
Socrates: "And in agreeing to come to the party, you've joined that community?"
Glaucon: "I suppose."
Socrates: "And in agreeing to join a community, we agree to promote the common good of that community?"
Glaucon: "To be sure."
Socrates: "And the common good of a party is companionship and laughter?"
Glaucon: "I suppose."
Socrates: "So then you've agreed to promote companionship and laughter?"
Glaucon: "I guess I have."
Socrates: "Just as I'm doing now?
Glaucon: "Oh, Socrates, of course!--Any true lover of wisdom will be the life of a party!"